During the time period of the novel The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald the U. S was in the midst of the famous Jazz Age in which the economy was expanding vastly, but also, shifting social attitudes. The lower class dreamed of living the American Dream that their eyes could see, but were oblivious to the true lives behind the elegant parties, and opulent components that made up the upper class. The rich were covered by a vast blanket of illusion that the poor desperately wanted to be warmed with.
Class in The Great Gatsby is a double edged sword. On one side are hard working people trying to inch closer to the American Dream, but on the other side, wealthy men and women who believe they are living the dream so many long for. Because of his perception of the American Dream, Nick Carraway is able to view situations in different lights opposed to others, and survive his chaotic journey realizing how the world truly is. Although Nick comes from a somewhat wealthy background, he see’s the people in the novel for what they are behind the money. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while motor boats slid the waters of the sound , drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On weekends his Rolls Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all the trains. And on Monday eight servants including an extra gardener, toiled all day with maps and scrubbing brushes and hammers and garden shears repairing the ravages of the night before” ( Carraway 43 ).
Nick is just beginning to learn of the lavish lifestyle of Gatsby, but does something that may come as a surprise. He acknowledges the workers and servants who have to clean up the messes that are made after Gatsby’s parties. Nick subtly shows that although he is a man of some class, he still has the respect and decency to realize who has to clean up the mess, possibly because he ends up being someone who has to clean up a mess.
As stated in “Critical Essays Social Stratification: The Great Gatsby as Social Commentary’’, even though Nick doesn’t have the capital of people such as Gatsby and Mr. Buchanan, he proves to be more observant than Tom and Gatsby, giving him the ability, as previously mentioned, to see the true identity of the characters in the novel. “ They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money and vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made” ( Carraway 136-137 ). Here Nick realizes that the people he thought were living the dream he sought out to achieve were nothing more than people blinded by the belief that money can fix any problem.
Nick Carraway’s unique viewpoint on the situations that he encounters during the novel The Great Gatsby show that having money does not equate to having proper morality. Correct principles on life cannot be bought, but must be forged through experiences one has undergone, and this is why Carraway understands the true nature of the American Dream. Because of the setting being during the Jazz Age not all people carried the same perception of the American Dream.
Myrtle Wilson is a great example of how some felt that the American Dream was the only way to obtain happiness. Myrtle Wilson’s perception of the American Dream leads her to believe that she can exchange her current life for one filled with all she desires, even if it’s for small amounts of time. Myrtle Wilson, as said in “Critical Essays Social Stratification: The Great Gatsby as Social Commentary”, comes from a middle class background at best, is one of many trapped, in the valley of ashes and spends her days trying to make it out.
She can’t see past the illusion of the upper class and it’s because of this, plus her desire to move up the social hierarchy that leads to her having an affair with Tom and not feeling any remorse while doing so. Sadly because of the fact that she is living out her dream when she is with him, Myrtle does not see the real Tom Buchanan who is only using her and will never socially accept her. Her failure to realize the true cost of success and wealth leads to her suffering the ultimate consequence of death. As Anne Hacht says in “The Great Gatsby.
Literary Themes for students: The American Dream’’, “The Great Gatsby illustrates the tragic cost of the American Dream. In the end both Gatsby and Myrtle Wilson lose their lives in the pursuit of success, or at least the appearance of success. For them, The American Dream means being able to exchange their impoverished pasts for the good life’’ ( 264-276 ). Hacht is trying to say that Myrtle loses her life believing that she was getting closer and closer to her version of the American Dream, but, in reality was othing more than a sexual pawn used by Tom Buchanan. Tanfer E. Tunc agrees with this point in “ The Long Island Historical Journey’’ by saying “ The fact that Myrtles breast was violently ripped open illustrates how her, and her breasts were simply sexualized pawns , objects to be played with by old-wealthy men like Tom who had social permission to abuse, and then discard working class women when he grew tired of them”( 1-14 ). Myrtle symbolizes the working class people who truly believed that they could obtain the American Dream regardless of their class.
As Tunc mentions, “ Myrtle died with her mouth ripped open, as if gasping for air, because her vision of the American Dream had left her suffocating in the valley of ashes”( 1-14 ). This furthermore proves the point that Myrtles desire to live her version of the American Dream is the reason she pays the ultimate price. Since Myrtle represents the people working up, there must be people who have already made it. These people are classified as the people of old money. In the novel The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald there are people who are born to money and believed they were living the dream so many worked for.
They are classified as people of “old wealth’’. These people were so used to getting whatever they want due to their wealth that they lacked the acceptance, and morals a working class person had during that time. In “Critical Essays Social Stratification: The Great Gatsby as Social Commentary”, the author speaks about how the people of old wealth, such as Daisy, Tom and Jordan impose distinctions on the other people of wealth based not on how much money one has, but rather on how that person got that money. This is clearly seen throughout the book and is the biggest conflict of the novel.
Because of the nature of the people of old wealth the working class will never climb up the steps that lead to The American Dream. “For those old money people, the fact that a person like Gatsby has just recently acquired his money is reason enough to dislike him. In their way of thinking, he can’t possibly have the same refinement, sensibility, and taste they have’’. ( “Critical Essays,’’2011 ). Here the old wealth are established as the primary barrier standing between a hard working man or woman and The American Dream.
Regardless of the amount of work someone puts in they will always be looked down upon by the one’s who are already at the top. The people at the top are not nice at all. In fact they are very superficial and since they lack acceptance, live their lives doing anything to perpetuate their superiority over the working class. This can be seen by the way Tom talks about African Americans when he is first introduced in the novel. “ Toms racism provides important insight into the sinister nature of old wealth’’ ( Tunc 1-14 ).
Because the characters of old wealth basically see themselves as being in a different race compared to the people of the working class, the rant Tom goes on about racial corruption in America can be directly correlated to the old wealths fear of their class being integrated by people they deem as not privileged enough such as people like Gatsby proving their unaccepting nature. Simply put in the rant given by Tom he represents old wealth, and the “races’’ Tom’s fears represents the working class.
This comparison furthermore proves the fact that the working class will never achieve success because of the constant attitude of non acceptance maintained by the old wealth. Although there are a couple characters that classify as old wealth no one symbolizes them greater than Tom Buchanan. If the old wealth had to be represented by one person no one fits the agenda better then Tom Buchanan. Tom symbolizes everything wrong with the upper class in The Great Gatsby. His American Dream was solely based around “entitlement and excluding those not entitled’’ ( Hacht 264-276 ).
This explains his constant pursuit for finding where Gatsby gained his wealth and ridiculing him whenever the time arose. The problem with Tom lies in the irony of it all though. He stands as a moral judge even though he is committing adultery with Myrtle. Because of this not even Tom is living the American Dream. In the article “The Great Gatsby and the American Dream’’ the author states the following about Tom: “He displays a false sophistication based on pretense. He has little genuine affection for Myrtle: It is her husband who mourns her death. Tom did not achieve the American Dream, he was born to wealth and proved unworthy of it’’.
This gives evidence to the fact that although Tom was born to wealth, he has no right to judge people such as Gatsby on morality considering that he cheated on his wife, and didn’t have the decency to mourn Myrtle’s death. He maintains self morale by sleeping with women that aspire to be like him so he feels a sense of superiority. This superiority in turn allows him to “maintain the illusion that he is a good and important man”( “Critical Essays,’’2011 ). Tom believes he is living the American Dream but is nothing more than a corrupt man who was born into riches. As Tom shows how one can lready have money and not live the dream, Jay Gatsby shows that no matter how hard one tries the American Dream is impossible to obtain. No matter how hard Jay Gatsby worked, he was never able to achieve his overall goal. Stated by Diane Telgen in the article “ The Great Gatsby, Novels for Students’’, Gatsby stood as a representation of the classic definition of the American Dream. “ Gatsby represents the American Dream of self made wealth and happiness, the spirit of youth and resourcefulness, and the ability to make something of one’s self despite one’s origins’’.
Gatsby is most engaged in the financial pursuit of the American Dream, but does so to reach one overall goal. To be socially accepted by the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan. This is his American Dream. The sad reality though is Gatsby devotes his whole life to something that is corrupt. James Nagel speaks about how when daisy first arrived to the house of Jay she was amazed by the extent of his wealth, not his devotion to her ( “The Great Gatsby”,2013 ). This explains how Daisy is corrupt and has always in love with material wealth. “She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me.
It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved anyone except for me. ” (Gatsby 130). This quote shows just how materialistic Daisy is since she left Gatsby for a richer man because Jay couldn’t didn’t have the ability to give her what she wants money wise. Overall, Gatsby’s fatal flaw was the one he loved. “ Gatsby didn’t want to understand society, but to ape it. Not to compel the world, but to live in it. His own dream of wealth meant nothing in itself, he merely wanted to buy back the happiness he had lost’’ ( Kazin 321-322 ). Here Kazin sums up the point that Gatsby’s entire story was somewhat of a waste.
He spent all his life trying to build his capital in hopes that he could win back Daisy, but in the long run never truly grew as a person and loses his life never getting The American Dream he always longed for. Class was, and still is a double edged sword in America’s society. By writing The Great Gatsby Scott F. Fitzgerald is trying to convey a simple message. The American Dream is impossible to achieve. Being that the true American Dream entails always striving for more of what you have, no one can possibly be satisfied meaning the American Dream is an impossible goal to accomplish.
As for the characters in the story, they have somewhat different things that prevent them from reaching each of their respective versions of the American Dream. For Myrtle, it’s the social class she was born in and the inability to climb the social ladder. For Gatsby, it’s the fact that his version of the American Dream he is after is corrupted. And for Tom along with the people of old wealth, it’s the fact that they are all born to wealth, allowing them to believe that they are already living the dream, when they truly are not.